With his tousled hair, dribbling skills and volatile temperament, James McFadden is touted both as a throwback to the past and a talisman for the future of Scottish football. While apparently unconvinced, Berti Vogts declared yesterday that a positive display by the 20-year-old striker-cum-midfielder against New Zealand in tonight's friendly at Tynecastle might propel him into Scotland's plans for the vital Euro 2004 qualifier against Germany on 7 June.
Vogts, the Scotland manager and former Germany coach, joined representatives of several English clubs at Motherwell on Saturday to watch McFadden celebrate their survival in the Premier League with a flamboyant hat-trick against Livingston. The German had been anxious to see whether the player's subdued performance in last week's 'Future Team' victory over Northern Ireland was a true measure of his form, and was rewarded with an "outstanding" second-half showing.
"I saw my cheeky James again," Vogts said, his face lighting up at the recollection. "While I could have scored his first goal [a penalty], the third was unbelievable [McFadden beat several opponents in a jinking run]. But international football is another world. He has to learn to play without the ball. If he does well against New Zealand he may well come off the standby list for Germany and into the squad."
McFadden came to prominence last summer when he missed Scotland's flight back from Hong Kong after their Far-East tour. "Everybody was telling me: 'You must get him out'," Vogts said. "But he missed a plane, that's all." He has regularly fallen foul of referees this season, incurring a dozen yellow cards and a red. However, with Vogts saying he has finalised 10 of the line-up against Germany in his mind, there is still a chance he could break through to confront Oliver Kahn and company.
A "bounce game" with the All Whites, as New Zealand are known, might seem a peculiar way to prepare for Germany. Vogts, whose public credibility has been lower than ever since the defeats by Lithuania and Austria earlier this year, insisted the result did not matter. He will treat the game, which inevitably has an air of anti-climax after the club-generated dramas of the past week, as an opportunity to gauge the condition, mental and physical, of several players.
Paul Lambert, the Scotland captain, will rest an ankle injury. But two other Celtic players, Rab Douglas and Jackie McNamara, are set to start, Vogts keeping faith with the former despite his being dropped by Martin O'Neill on Sunday. "Rab is the clear No 1 in Scotland. He has done so well for Celtic. He has made mistakes - we all do - but not against Porto in the Uefa Cup final."
The captain's armband will go to Christian Dailly, the West Ham United defender being likely to operate in midfield. Barry Ferguson, the vice-captain, will not play, along with other Rangers and Dundee players as they prepare for Saturday's Scottish Cup final. Ferguson needs surgery to rectify a pelvic problem, but Vogts said he had "absolutely no doubt" that he would face Germany provided he is fit.
New Zealand will not arrive in Edinburgh until today. Their English coach, the former Notts County striker Mick Waitt, has assembled his scattered squad (with home-based players making a 31-hour flight to join those domiciled in the United States, Poland, the Netherlands, Australia as well as at Oldham Athletic, Walsall, Barnsley and Kingstonian) in a hotel at Ashby-de-la-Zouch in Leicestershire.
It would be a mistake to assume New Zealand will provide easy pickings, as they did 21 years ago next month. Then, a Scotland team managed by Jock Stein and including Messrs Dalglish, Hansen, Souness and Strachan, won 5-2 in the World Cup finals. Despite having no professional league, Waitt's journeymen now stand 51st in Fifa's world rankings, 13 places above the Scots, and are using the game as a warm-up for Confederations Cup combat with France and Japan.
Another defeat for Scotland, however meaningless the fixture, seems unthinkable. "The fans have had it hard, but I'm telling them to wait," Vogts said. "I know results have been bad, but the people on the street know the problems of Scottish football. It's not about one game with New Zealand - it's about the future."
SCOTLAND (4-4-2; probable): Douglas (Celtic); Ross (Rangers), Pressley, Webster (both Heart of Midlothian), Naysmith (Everton); Devlin (Birmingham City), McNamara (Celtic), Dailly (West Ham Utd), McFadden (Motherwell); Kyle (Sunderland), Crawford (Dunfermline Athletic).